Let the games begin! Video games, that is.
In “Game Masters: The Exhibition” at The Franklin Institute in Philadelphia, no quarters are required to play more than 100 video games — from original arcade classics such as “Donkey Kong” and “Pac-Man” to favorite console games such as “Sonic the Hedgehog” and “Rock Band” to today’s indie hits such as “Angry Birds” and “Fruit Ninja.”
The 14,000-square-foot exhibit, which continues through Sept. 3, celebrates five decades of video game evolution and showcases the contributions of more than 30 of the world’s most influential game designers.
In addition to retro and cutting-edge games, designers’ works are explored in interviews, rare concept artwork and storyboards.
The exhibition also features interactive programming space developed by the Franklin Institute to explore topics such as coding, robotics, gamification and problem-solving.
“Needless to say, fun is an understatement here,” says Larry Dubinski, president of The Franklin Institute.
Game Masters, created and curated by the Australian Centre for the Moving Image and designed “to inspire ingenuity, creativity and nostalgia,” features unique experiences, including a large-scale, colorfully illuminated version of “Dance Central 3” (2012), in which participants choose famous club songs and mimic the dance moves on-screen.
Adrenaline junkies can head to a motion-controlled, ride-on motorcycle game, “Hang On,” or get behind the wheel of a 3-D driving video game, “Out Run.” Both games were designed by Japan’s Yu Suzuki and released by Sega in the mid-1980s.
“The Franklin Institute has always been a place to go for hands-on science learning, a place to discover and indulge individual curiosity and to find answers to some of our most basic scientific questions,” Dubinski says. “Through our exhibits, events and programs both in the museum and throughout the community, we are always looking for fresh and new ways to ignite a spark and create that ‘ah-ha’ moment, to educate and inspire. With ‘Game Masters,’ the possibilities are endless.”
Game Masters is presented in three sections: Arcade Heroes, Game Changers and Indies.
Arcade Heroes spotlights pioneering designers from the trailblazing arcade era, including Ed Logg (“Asteroids,” 1979), Toru Iwatani (“Pac-Man,” 1980) and Tomohiro Nishikado (“Space Invaders,” 1978).
The Japanese and American designers came from diverse backgrounds, including engineering, toy design, pinball arcades and computer science.
When their games first appeared at amusement venues in the 1970s, they offered many people their first experience of interacting with a computer.
“Successful arcade games combined themes drawn from science fiction and popular culture with the excitement of playing against a machine that offered immediate and explosive audio and visual feedback,” a museum placard reads.
Game Changers, the largest section, focuses on 13 leading contemporary designers whose work has had lasting industry and cultural impacts.
Each of the designers — some individuals and some teams — have a unique vision and style that has been refined over the years (often decades) to create the characters, environments and stories we know and love.
Among the spotlighted designers are Alex Rigopulos and Eran Egozy, graduates of MIT’s computer-music department who popularized rhythm action games such as “Frequency” (2001) and “Guitar Hero” (2005); and Paulina Bozek, one of the few female game designers and the BAFTA Award-winning creator of Sony’s “SingStar” (2004) competitive karaoke series.
Visitors also can learn about American designer Will Wright, dubbed the father of simulation games following his first major success, “SimCity,” in 1989.
With other commercial hits such as “The Sims” (2000) and “Spore” (2008), Wright became known for creating fun and humorous games that empower the player to build their own environments and narratives, exploring concepts including urban design, evolution and social relationships.
The last section, Indies, showcases the work of designers who work outside the major studios and are economically and creatively independent.
These designers, including Jakub Dvorsky (“Machinarium”), Eric Chahi (“Another World”) and Markus “Notch” Persson (“Minecraft”) work without large teams of programmers and animators, and have been able to appeal to gamers through the strength of their ideas and the finesse of their execution.
In recent years, the popularity of smart phones has shifted the economic structures underlying game design and distribution.
Companies such as Australia’s Firemonkeys Studios (“Flight Control”) and Halfbrick (“Fruit Ninja”) and the Finnish group Rovio (“Angry Birds”) have been able to reach huge audiences and transform themselves into major international players by focusing on creative excellence in casual gaming.
Game Masters also features a 1,200-square-foot interactive programming area, led by Franklin Institute staff and volunteers.
For example, a Tetris-inspired activity challenges you to form a four-by-10-block rectangle out of life-size tetromino pieces; and a circuitry and input processing activity allows visitors to make a cartoon Ben Franklin walk, jump and perform other actions on-screen using conductive Play-Doh and a Makey Makey electronic invention kit.
You also can learn the basic principles of coding using programmable robots called Spheros and Ozobots. Or channel your inner Mario by putting on a white glove and punching an overhead question-mark block, prompting the classic chime sound effect.
In coordination with Game Masters, the museum will host adult-only screenings of classic gaming films “War Games” (June 5) and “Tron” (July 3), as well as “Programming from Scratch” beginner coding workshops (various dates). Also, on select Saturdays throughout the exhibit’s run, local gamers will showcase different sides of the gaming industry.
‘Game Masters: The Exhibition’
What: Exhibit celebrating five decades of video game designers and featuring 100-plus playable video games
When: Through Sept. 3
Where: The Franklin Institute, 220 N. 20th St., Philadelphia
Hours: 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily, until 8 p.m. Thurs.-Sat.
How much: Daytime tickets (last entry at 3:30 p.m.), which includes general museum admission: $30; $26, ages 3-11. Evening tickets, with entry 5-6:30 p.m. Thurs.-Sat., includes general museum admission: $20; $15, ages 3-11. Tickets are for specific times.
Info: 215-448-1200, fi.edu